PAPER CUTS

Paper is at once both
the cruelest invention a writer
may have stumbled across
and also her salvation.

The blank page invites,
often demands the pen
and is unjudging, yet the poet
may change or delete
but the paper retains the original
and throws it back in his face.

The computer, many say,
changed all of that, backspace
or highlight and delete and
that mistake, misuse, misadventure
is gone forever, but
with a wrong keystroke
all you may have is a blank screen
and your words so well shaped,
thoughts perfectly expressed
can be lost in the ether.

Where did I put that pen?

YOU, REALLY

Would it surprise you to learn
that like most writers, I
have spent more than a little
guilty time trying to imagine
what you look like, what you know
you should be doing
while you are reading this poem.

And I do wish I couild see
your face as you read it, knowing
it is a conversation where
you want to speak, to tell me
that you like my work, that
reading me is a complete
and utter waste of time,
but you cannot, so I will
conclude that you do like
my work or else you would
not be reading this in the first place.

AFTERLIFE

In the farthest reaches
of the afterlife, the old men
gather each day, although
day and night are meaningless
to them, just assigned
for purposes of the writer.

The Buddha recites sutras
hoping the others will
be in the moment with him,
while Hillel smiles, stands
on one foot and dreams
of a lean pastrami on rye
with a slice of half sour.

Christ muses on when
mankind might be ready
for his return visit,
and Hillel says “good luck
with that, it’s been downhill
with them for two millenia.

Shroedinger sits off
to the side staring intently
at the box, wondering
if there is a cat inside.

LINKAGE

Linking things is a human need,
tenuous forces barely holding
across synapses easily broken
or lost, never to be replaced.

Ithaca is forever joined with
Galway City, and I still have not
figured out how to get the two
people together as together is
obviously what they should be.

She sits at a small table
in the Commons, staring, waiting
perhaps for a writer or lover
who may be both, to come down
from Cornell and join her,
while Oscar waits patiently
on a marble bench, hat by his side,
telling Eduard of the woman
he expects to arrive, trying
to determine how to tell her
that her friendship means
everything, but it can be
nothing more than platonic.

In my world they meet, she
listens, fights back tears
and promises always to be there,
friends frozen in time and bronze.

INSTRUCTIONS TO MY ENGLISH LIT CLASS

First, read the syllabus
and buy the books we will read.
Note that I have carefully selected
works for which there are no Cliff Notes
or their equivalent, so if you were
counting on that consider yourself screwed.

When you write an essay, do not ever,
let me emphasize EVER, begin by saying
in my opinion, for if I wanted
an opinion on a great writer’s work
I would as soon stop and ask
my multigrain bagel what it thought,
although I admit its Everything cousin
did have some amazing insights into Hamlet.

Do not bother plagarizing quotes
from things you find on the internet,
for they will either be wrong or
you will have found them by using
Google or another search engine
and I discovered those when you
were still in diapers. And finally
if you ask for more time to write
a paper, I will give you a strong
recommendation to take my friend’s
Intermediate Composition class,
the one you tried to duck
by taking my class instead.

HERE LIES

Ambrose Bierce walked into Mexico
one day, and was never seen again.
That was surprising enough, but
more so, he left no epitaph, the least
you would expect from a writer.

In retrospect, perhaps he was
the smarter one, for I know othersl
who have spent countless hours
trying to devise the perfect epitaph,
knowing they never quite got it right.

I almost fell victim to that trap,
but avoided it the moment that
I realized that regardless of what
I might so carefully select, it is
my heirs who will have the final say.

PLATFORM

They said it was essential
for a writer to have a substantial platform,
one built high enough to be easily seen
by those passersby who might just give
a passing glance, even if it was a typo
landed them here, updated, regularly
changing with time, tide, and fashion
always ready, always accommodating.
It must be a composite, the better
to handle storms, ill winds lacking
the ennui of winter, curse of summer.
It was no small task to build,
everyone offered plans, templates,
none ever quite right, but he built it,
and when the time came, like most
writers he knew, it would suffice
where they put the noose around his neck
and hung him by his words, his
truth that they came to hate.

EPISTLES

In dreams
I write letters
to dead heroes
beginning each Dear __________:
I apologize for the intrusion
but in your next life
will you do the same,
give up the desk
in the patent office
for dreams of brothers
twins, one moving
one fixed, stand
before a jury, no testament
to the Lower East Side.
I carefully fold each letter
and put on proper postage
but delivery across
the curtain of mortality
is slow and your
responses have not
been forthcoming
but I will
continue to write
for there are always
more with whom
to correspond.

GODS ONCE

The once gods have been reduced
again to mere mortals
and find the change disquieting.
Just the other day I saw Hermes
meandering along Fifth Avenue
pausing to look at scarves in a window
of a store he never imagined.
Even the once great queen
finds herself behaving like
a love-struck teenager.
One who bred desire now works
as a hack writer for a card company,
a blow to his psyche more
than anyone can imagine.
Even the nameless one
has been seen working behind
the register at Walmart
thankful for the extra hours
as the holiday season approaches.
We no longer aspire to be gods,
it is too much work and there is
simply no payoff.

UNDER THE WEIGHT

My shelves grow heavy
with volumes of words
I wish I had written, neatly
bound up in books
that stare at me, at once
bidding me welcome
and challenging me to enter.
One shelf is set aside
for books of pages,
blank, on which I have written
each day now for three
and a half years, words
I did write which, on rereading,
I often wish I hadn’t.
I could write in pencil
erase later in the face of regret,
but the pen seals failure
and, I am sure, helps build
character, which I have in excess